Usually, I cannot remember my dreams. Recently I started to experiment with sleep-hacking using polyphasic everyman sleep. Finally, I am able to have lucid dreams. Read more, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
What is lucid dreaming?
A lucid dream is when you are aware that you are asleep and dreaming during the dream. Basically, we can control the narrative of our dream, and guide the dream state to solve your problems. You can practice advanced visualization, fight nightmares, run simulations of various events, there are also some applications in healing and language acquisition. During lucid dreaming, there is higher connectivity in the brain than during full wakefulness.
Why is it hard to get into lucid dreaming?
The state of lucid dreaming is notoriously hard to achieve. Basically the sleep has 4 stages, and we try to trick the brain and get quickly into the 4th stage, the REM sleep. To get this done, researchers might attach electrodes and wake up the person during the REM stage with some hypnotic instructions. Instead of fully waking up, the person becomes aware of himself during the sleep. Without electrodes to time the sleep, and without hypnotic instruction to guide the awareness, lucid dreaming is hard to achieve.
There are techniques, that tried together to improve the chances of lucid dreaming:
- Reality testing: checking your environment a few times during the day to see if you are awake or dreaming. Eventually, this starts happening in the dream.
- Wake back to bed: a polyphasic sleep method, involving waking up two hours earlier than normal, staying up for about 30 minutes, and then returning to sleep. Unlike say the dual-core sleep, the waking period is relatively very short.
- Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams: a sort of hypnotic instruction. Lying in bed just prior to falling asleep set the intention in your mind “the next time I am dreaming, I will remember that I am dreaming,” and repeat this mantra multiple times. It is important to complete at least six repetitions of mantra and fall asleep within 5 minutes. Relatively easy to do between the two core sleep phases.
- Dream diary: a feedback technique of recording the dream immediately with recording the level of control in the dream.
After two weeks of practicing this combination, I achieved some sort of lucid dreaming. Preliminary research indicates that about 60% of people who seriously try can achieve this.
Two sleep cores
During the night sleep, we have two core sleep phases. The first phase consists of two or three cycles rich with so-called SWS deep sleep. Each cycle is around 90 min long. This phase is important for long term memory. Do not mess up with it, and get at least 4.5 hours of undisturbed sleep. Then we get a different phase which is REM-rich. Possibly it allows simulation of various events and guiding them. It is relatively safe to experiment with one REM-rich cycle, guiding it as we want. Notice that 6 hours are usually not enough for a good sleep, and we may need an additional nap or two, maybe a full sleep cycle, for example during siesta.
To reduce the amount of sleeping and increase productivity, the duration between the core sleep period should be several hours, compatible with two or three full sleep cycles. For lucid dreaming, we reduce this duration to 20 min or so, compatible with a short nap. This is a sort of artificially induced insomnia.
Sleep hackers usually activate the alarm clock to control the sleep cycle. I could not wake my family, so instead, I increased fluid consumption before sleep.
Lucid dream behavior
For most people, the first experience with lucid dreaming is very short. I quote:
Critical state test.
“Wow, I’m dreaming!”
This is not what I experienced, as during the day before the sleep I used to prepare the theme for the dreaming. Like visualize a full body scan and healing process, or simulate a photography session with my kids. This intention was added to the sleeping mantra as a repeating visualization. The lucid dreaming in my case was about 20 min long.
Immediately when recognizing that we are in a lucid dream it is useful to have a ritual. I visualized a sort of prayer pose: putting my palms together near the nose and floating 10 cm in the air, thanking my body, mind, and spirit for this adventure.
Immediately afterward it is important to be actively engaged in the lucid dream. In fact, withdrawing the attention from the lucid dream results in waking up. So fixating the eyes on a single point during the dream may result in true waking up. It may also generate a false sense of wakefulness and a dream within a dream. Spinning in the dream in full circles very fast increases the chances of true wakefulness. The ability to wake up is crucial for dealing with nightmares and feeling in control.
I never tried complex awakening techniques. Honestly, I feel easier to wield superpowers in my dream world. Either the issues get solved, or I jolt into awareness in the real world.
Altered states of consciousness, like hypnosis and meditation, can be useful to achieve things we cannot achieve fully awake. We can influence the healing powers of the body, experience flight, and astral projection quite realistically. In some cases, increased brain connectivity enables access to latent memories like childhood experiences or things we decided to suppress years ago. Ask yourself, what was it like being a Buddhist priest in medieval China, and with some understanding of history, you can gel an almost realistic experience. Maybe try to guess what the future is bringing and see it in all its colors. This is very similar to any visualization but feels much more immersive,
In the real world, we work with the environment and gather cues. In sleep, we simulate the environment and can control it, for example speeding up the interactions or allowing enhances senses. We can, for example, change our perceived size and strength.
Watch the film “Divergents”. Navigating a lucid dream is similar to the altered state of consciousness induced by drugs in the movie, You can face your fears directly, you may reframe them into something cute and friendly, or you can simply wake up.
Lucid dreaming vs mindfulness
Lucid dreaming is a sort of continuation of mindfulness. In the awakened state, we are aware of our senses, like what we see and hear. Then we start to notice the subject that is aware and form an understanding of the observer. This awareness is later translated into the dream state, and we become aware of the reality in our sleep. During the REM stage, the muscles are paralyzed so we can do things our bodies would not allow in the real world.
In sleep the subject observing the reality is the same, the senses are enhanced and the reality fully simulated. The more awareness we can focus on the real world, the more of it we can later bring to our dreams. The enhanced senses in the dream world also enable better artistic capabilities.
The risks of lucid dreaming
In some ways, lucid dreaming can be compared to a very safe kind of mind-altering drug. Think of better and safer LSD.
Lucid dreaming is a sort of polyphasic sleep hacking. Waking up in the middle of the night disrupts our sleep. disrupted sleep led to increased levels of two proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s—beta-amyloid and tau. In the study, beta-amyloid levels increased after just one night of sleep deprivation, and tau levels increased after one week of sleep deprivation.
There is also a state of partial disorientation when we are not sure that the reality is real. We can get locked in a cycle, reliving the same day multiple times. All of our senses are real, so the fear and the pain will be real, just like a bad trip with some chemicals.
The states of sleep and wakefulness may start to mix. In the real world, we might try to perform dangerous acts or move fast knocking down things. In sleep, we may get a state of sleep within sleep with layered realities.
Dying in sleep does not kill you, but if you have a weak heart, it is best to avoid lucid dreaming.
I guess, like any polyphasic sleep hacking, lucid dream is a very cool experience to try for a couple of months. Do not take it as a major part of your life.
Get enough sleep
Lucid dreaming may interfere with regular life, as our sense of reality gets altered. For example, we can do a lot of athletic training in the sleep, but then in life find out that we are not as agile or as strong as we wanted. Gaining weight is also a very likely outcome. Just like meditation, lucid dreaming is not as refreshing as the real thing, so you should want to sleep less but should sleep more.
I added links about sleeping more in the abstract. I will also write some dedicated articles. Use the keyword search on my site to find them.